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Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 17312
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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Hello I am french but I have been living in NYC for 8 months

Resolved Question:

Hello

I am french but I have been living in NYC for 8 months as I am working for an american large company here. I have a L1 visa for 3 years.
Yesterday I have been in a department store where i have bought 3 items: one belt (38 dollars), one underwear (17 dollars) and one shirt. However, for the shirt I have changed the tag. it was supposed to be 99 dollars and I put a tage from another shirt of 35 dollars, ie 75 dollars of difference. Once the item paid, I have been arrested by the security agents and they call the police. They say they call the police when the value "stolen" is about 55 dollars, ie here 20 dollars more. So the police pick up me and I spent the evening at the police station (around 1.5 hours) they took a picture of me and my fingers print.
That was the first time ever I was doing that in my life I have never stolen anything. I have been one year in the us in 2002 and return in the US in January so for months now, I have never been arrested or accused of something. I am an executive in finance and acted stupidly just to pay my shirt at a lower price. Anyway the police officer gave me a paper quoting that I have to see the judget in one month. I was very scared and asked her what do I risk. She said "relax, as it is a tag swag, a value of 75 dollars, and I have never been recorded on criminal file, she is going to yell at you at that is it" and she told me also "but make sure you attend the trial, if not you wont be able to come back in the US".
So those are my questions:
what do I risk?
- fine? if so what price`
- prison?
- social community work?
-Do I have a chance that they stop my visa and I have to go back to France? WIth a notice? (the police officer said no)
-Is there a chance that that I will be now recorded in criminal law or on my social security card and this would be a difficulty then to have a green card or a bank mortgage? (the police officer said that they wont be anything like that)
- they took my fingers print, do they crossed check those fingers print when I come back to the US (let s say when I spent one week in France for holiday to see my family)
- I ask if I should that a lawyer, the police officer told me that I will have one the day of the judgment. But should I take one myself to prepare my defense? If so do you have some good lawyer to recommend me. qnd how much will this will cost me on average.
All the answers of the police officers were very reassuring and comforting but I believe that are not lawyers or judges so do they know really what they are talking about.

please help me I am very scared, I haven t slept of the night and the judgement is only in 35 days:::: I am honest citizen and never stolen first time I have done the price tag swap and it was for a few dollars...

thank you
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 2 years ago.
Hello Jacustomer,

I'm a NYC lawyer.

You can relax about this. So long as you are careful about a couple of things, this will come out all right for you. But you do have to take care. A petit larceny is what USCIS calls a crime of moral turpitude, and though it's no big deal for a US citizen, as misdemeanors go, it's a very big deal for someone here on a visa.

Your offense is an A misdemeanor in NYS, which has a maximum possible penalty of a year in jail, but you will not have to worry about jail, and you will not have to worry about having a misdemeanor conviction either.

Your first day in court is called your Arraignment. That is when the court reads out the charges to you and asks you how you plead. There is only one answer you should give at this time. That is NOT GUILTY. That is the only one that keeps all of your rights open.

Then the judge will turn to the DA and ask whether they have an offer for you. The DA will offer you a plea possibility to a violation. It will almost certainly be either a plea to Section 240.20 (disorderly conduct) or to criminal trespass (section 140,05). If you were offered one of these two charges and you wanted to get rid of your case, you could plead guilty, pay a fine, and you'd be guilty of a violation. A violation is NOT considered a crime but like the criminal court equivalent of a traffic ticket. You could sy you have never been convicted of a crime and after a year it will automatically seal, so long as you don't do anything this silly again.

You would have to disclose this to USCIS when they ask about your criminal history, but as long as you do it will not cause you to fall out of status. You will just want to eventually get what they call a certificate of disposition, and the arrest report, so that if they inquire about this when you enter ad exit the country, they can see that it was a violation and not a crime.

There is something a little bit better than a plea to a violation. It is called an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal. (ACD) It's a conditional dismissal where you don't have to plead guilty to a thing. You DO have to stay out of trouble for 6 months. After that it seals automatically.

So, going backward a bit, when the judge says to the DA, "Do the People have an offer?" and the DA offers the trespass or disorderly conduct, you can say, "Can I get an ACD, Judge?" The worst he will do is say no, but if he says yes, it's a better deal for you, because then you don't have to plead guilty to anything at all.

If you are an executive in Finance, you are likely not going to be able to get a free lawyer when you show up on the case. You can afford to hire one. I would have recommend having one. You can do all of this above that I have told you without one, but since you are really not at all familiar with our legal system and because you have a lot at stake, it's better to be overcautious than not.

Things you don't want to do? You don't want to plead guilty to petit larceny. It's a misdemeanor. Neither USCIS nor the financial industry will like that. You also do not want to admit on the record that you switched tags. If you plead guilty to the violation or get the ACD you will not have to.

And that's about it! This should all be over on the same day.
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 17312
Experience: Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.